During a visit to Madison, Wisconsin, my brother and I visited Blue Mound State Park, near the small town of Blue Mounds, about 25 miles west of Madison. It was during the traditional July hot spell, which was, if anything, especially hot and humid this year: 95 degrees and 95% humidity day after day. We thought the park might be a little cooler and proceeded to pick out a roughly 4½ mile loop to explore. The day was still warm, but the hike was pleasant and mostly in shade or at least partial shade.
By California standards Wisconsin is rather flat. Blue Mound is one of several mounds remaining in the area following powerful geologic processes. It is the highest point in southern Wisconsin, with an elevation of a little over 1700 feet, several hundred feet above the surrounding rolling farmland. Near the top of the mound there are two observation towers (East and West). We started our adventure near the East Observation Tower. The contours of the mound are evident in the GPS track.
As may be anticipated, most of the hike is at a lower elevation than the parking area. In the elevation profile, the two pips represent our climbs to the top of the observation towers.
The towers are fairly basic structures just a few stories high, with observation decks at the top. While on the observation deck we had the feeling of being in the canopy of the trees at the top of the mound and looking over the treetops just down the side of the mound.
From the observation tower we had a lovely view across the countryside.
After descending from the observation tower we headed down the side of the mound (clockwise on the GPS track), behind a swimming pool complex, and south along the Pleasure Valley Bike Trail. We turned onto the Ridgeview Trail to continue southward. We were treated to many pretty wildflowers, one of which was the bergamot.
Another of my favorite wildflowers was the chicory. Both bergamot and chicory are common in Wisconsin, but were relatively exotic for me.
We also heard and/or saw quite a few birds, including goldfinches, a scarlet tanager, cardinals, house wrens, nuthatches, a downy woodpecker, and towhees. We heard the yellowthroat’s “witchery witchery witchery” call numerous times along the trail. Another floral highlight was the Michigan lily, sometimes called Turk’s cap lily although there is a different species with that name.
We decided to take a small detour along the Walnut Hollow Trail, just because it sounded interesting and would probably pass some walnut trees. The trails we hiked had varying surfaces, but this one was unusual in that the main surface was grass. It passed dark-barked trees that we presumed were walnut trees, many with Virginia creeper growing up the trunks.
We then returned to the Ridgeview Trail, from which we were hoping to be able to see the Military Ridge State Trail just a bit further down the mound. However, the forest was so dense that we did not see the Military Ridge Trail. After turning north and walking west past the campground area, we proceeded north along the Flint Rock Nature Trail. When researching the park I had noticed an interesting-looking single-track bike trail called Holy Schist Trail, which appeared to cross the Flint Rock Nature Trail. It turned out that the bike trail changed names where we crossed, and there wasn’t a trail-naming sign. Although the trail looked benign at the junction, I imagined that there were more interesting challenges farther along.
Shortly after this trail crossing we took a trail up the side of the mound to the West observation tower, where we climbed up to enjoy the view of rolling farmland.
After coming down the West tower we had planned to take the Indian Marker Tree Trail just down the north side of Blue Mound. Initially we missed the trail junction and found ourselves at a vista point between the parking areas for the two observation towers. We backtracked and found the Indian Marker Tree Trail. Near the West end of this trail is the Indian Marker Tree, a white oak about 160 – 180 years old that died in 2003. Although there is some controversy about marker trees, it seems that they were bent by Native Americans as saplings to point toward a significant sight, such as a route, water, or a point of astrological significance (e.g. the point on the horizon where the sun rises on the summer solstice).
The Indian Marker Tree Trail leads around to a trail junction below the East Observation Tower that we had passed near the beginning of the hike, and we went back past the tower to the car. This was a very pleasant hike in a park that is easily accessible from Madison and other nearby cities. We topped off our outing by taking a short walk on the Military Ridge State Trail near the town of Mt Horeb.